August 2001
5th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival : Lockdown Interviews

Interviewed by Wilson Morales
Scene from Lock Down

5th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival - Lockdown Interviews

As the 5th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival got under way, opening up the festival was the NY Premiere of “Lockdown.” This story is about the test of friendship between 3 men when they are wrongly convicted for a crime they didn’t commit. I had a chance to speak with the director John Luessenhop and one of the stars of the film, Gabriel Casseus, as they shared their experience on the film with

WM: How did you get involved with the project?

JL: I had read the script. It had been given to me. I kind of just looked through it. I was afraid at first thinking it was a hip-hop prison film, then I looked through it and saw it could be a heartfelt drama along the lines of a “Boyz in da Hood” and “Menace to Society” and they gave me a clean slate to cast it, it had some people attached, I went out and got people I thought would really make it work. With Gabriel Casseus, Richard T. Jones, De’Aundre Bonds, Clifton Powell, Bill Nunn and Melissa Desousa, I think it all began to come together and gave us a chance to make a solid film.

WM: How about you, Gabriel?

Scene from Lock Down

GC: I got a call and what attracted me to the project was when they told me Master P was producing it. I wanted to be in business with anybody who does things on their own terms. I know he had that whole production thing where he just distributes independently and I just thought anybody who goes against the norm to try to make films whichever way they can I wanted to be a part of that. Finally, I read the script and thought it was pretty tight and met with John and he explained his vision to me how he wanted to shoot this and I thought this could be good.

WM: I understand you shot the film on days over 90 degree weather. Can you talk about this?

JL: It was hot is the first thing. We shot all the prison scenes in Santa Fe, New Mexico and all the inner city scenes in Albuquerque. The summer time was just brutal out there. There was no place to hide from the sun there and there’s this huge dry heat. The irony is that I shot the whole film during the summer and when I had to go back to do a couple of pick ups, I had to go through the coldest day of the year which was in December and you could see people breathe and they had to put ice cubes in their mouth so you couldn’t see the steam. I went through both extremes in making this film.

WM: Had you done any research on prison life, especially on those who were wrongly convicted?

JL: I didn’t go out in the field and do it but I had previously filmed in 2 prisons. I had done a bunch of recreations for “America’s Most Wanted” a number of times. I wanted to watch some films which I had seen before that had captured it like “Slam” and there’s an HBO documentary I had seen and some others I had looked at and those are what sort of guided me and just in talking to people who had been locked up and a lot of people who had played extras were in the same prison at one time when it was operative.

WM: Gabriel, your first film was “New Jersey Drive” where your Scene from Lock Down character was sort of a menace with no emotion. In “Lockdown,” your character almost has the same trait. Would you say that research was not a hard stretch?

GC: I didn’t really have a lot of time for research. I just focused on the relationship. I didn’t focus on the prison aspect as much as I did on the friendship aspect of the movie. I looked at how two friends, through a series of events, are pitted against each other. I thought that was really what the story was about. Everything else you can leave up to imagination.

WM: With “Lockdown” as the opener of the 5th Arrival Urbanworld Film Festival, are you ready for the heavy exposure?

JL: I’m grateful for it. There are so many catch 22’s to get going as a director you can’t do it until you’ve done it and somehow you have to pierce that piece of metal. I’m not in it to be a star, I just like to make movies and this movie has given me a chance to make another film. I just agreed to do a studio film coming up. I’m just pleased, fulfilled and can’t wait to do other things.

WM: Can you talk about your upcoming projects?

JL: It was just announced in the trades that I agreed to do a picture for Warner Brothers called “Heart n’ Soul” that will start filming late spring and early summer. I’m also looking at an assortment of other things that I haven’t pinned down as of yet.

WM: Gabriel, is your career at a level you want it to be?

GC: No, otherwise what else would I have to do. I’m actually producing films now. I’m also writing as well. There’s a film that John and I are collaborating on, an action thriller. That film will be shot in New York. There are a lot of things I want to do in front and back of the camera. My passion right now is moving towards behind the camera.

WM: With so many singers being offered film roles, as a black actor, do you still find it difficult to get parts?

GC: It’s been difficult, but because the industry is changing so much, it’s no longer about doing one thing anymore. You’ve got Snoop Dogg doing a film with Denzel Washington so it’s like rappers becoming legitimate actors and vice-versa. Well not vice-versa just yet. Everything is being crossed over and it’s about the ability to do everything. One has to dive into other areas besides acting.

WM: What sort of films are you looking to produce?

GC: The ones that people want to come and see. I’m a fan of the action genre but there has to be an interesting story to it. That’s about it.

WM: Chris Tucker recently got 20 million for Rush Hour 2 and Scene from Lock Down he’s been in less than 10 films, do you think that could happen for another black actor?

GC: If you create something that has chemistry that people want to see black or white, money is not an issue. As we know, comedy can easily be sold to the public. Chris is a very unique person. He has this new Eddie Murphy thing happening and he’s naturally funny. And if he can pack the theaters like I know he can, he certainly deserves 20-30 million.

WM: There are lots of women who believe their loved ones in prison are innocent and set out to seek justice. How did you construct Melissa Desousa’s role with credibility?

JL: One, I never wanted to make her a victim I wanted to make her strong. With all the things about her, she was driven by love. She was never weak, and although her will gets challenged, she stayed focused on the man she loves and worked hard to get him out.

WM: When will “Lockdown” be released for the general public?

JL: It will come out during Black History Month in 2001, 5 or 6 months from now. Palm Pictures will release the film in about 300 urban sites.


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